Album: Aaliyah

Aaliyah, Blackground/Virgin
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The Independent Culture

It's not just British pop that's succumbing to a tide of stage-school moppets who wannabe the next Kids From Fame; as those terrifying clips of the pre-teen Britney confirm, the same principles dominate American pop too. Though still only 21, Aaliyah is a veteran of the system, her R Kelly-produced début album Age Ain't Nothing But A Number having been recorded in 1994 while she was a student at the Detroit High School For The Performing Arts. This third offering breaks a five-year silence, during which many presumed that the ravages of adolescence must have wreaked terminal damage on her voice/looks/career, though in actual fact she was starting her acting career (of course). Produced partly by Timbaland, and partly by newcomers like Rapture & E Seats, expert replicators of the Timbaland twitchy-swingbeat style, Aaliyah has little to add to the course of modern R&B, featuring as it does the efficient but ineffectual presentation of the usual small selection of commands, complaints and romantic entreaties. Unfortunately, she lacks the character to animate them in a distinctive manner, sounding indistinguishable from her competitors – though this will undoubtedly be more than enough to satisfy most punters. As for Missy Elliott's absurdly over-praised songwriting skills, someone should tell her that the query "Can I talk to you?" is the most depressing phrase a man can hear, and that starting a chorus with it is guaranteed to kill the mood. Any mood.